The Foothills Learning Center is a place dedicated to educating young children in environmental awareness and conservation, focusing on teaching grade-school children by getting them outside on guided hikes and outdoor lessons. Before the city bought the land on which the center is built from United Water, the location was zoned for an 800-unit housing development. Upon the rise of the Save Hull’s Gulch movement, concern for the well-being of the foothills and the city’s infringement upon the wildlife there skyrocketed. Advocates of the movement lobbied the city council and filled petitions to save the land from the impending urbanization. The city then purchased the land from United Water and made plans for the Foothills Center.
The initial plan for the building was one of a sustainable structure that was simple in design but also multifunctional. There are two distinct sections of the Center, a few small offices on one side managing two large classrooms and a small lobby. The walls of the lobby are covered in impressively detailed murals by a local artist who also contributed to the Art in Transit project that decorated Boise city buses. Sunlight streams in from the clerestory windows that line the facade of the building, which are the main source of lighting for the structure, knocking down energy costs. These high-performance windows minimize the building’s heat loss since their low-conductance frame materials to not readily transfer energy. They are also south-facing to allow the sun to heat the building during the winter when it is lower in the sky, but are overhung by the eaves that block excess heat during the summer, when its rays are overhead. This light then is absorbed by the exposed flooring that releases the heat gradually in another effort to preserve resources needed to power the building. A large percentage of this power comes from the solar panels that cover part of the Center’s roof, installed in 2004. Also, the building sports a ground-source heat pump that heats the structure with 8,000 feet of flexible tubing that runs both throughout the building and 5-6 feet underground, exchanging heat from the ground to the building in the winter and vice versa in the warmer seasons. In addition, zoned thermostats are installed in various places in the Center as opposed to one thermostat to manage the entire building. This allows for more energy-efficient heating and cooling, as sensors monitor the temperature in different locations to supply warmer or cooler air only to the areas that need it. This is approximately thirty percent more efficient than traditional systems.
When the Foothills Learning Center first started out, there were two staff members, but eventually grew to include a part-time office manager to address clerical duties, which also involves preparing for classes, and another educator to teach classes from around Boise. These educators cooperate with teachers to plan trips to the Learning Center to instruct children in trail etiquette, green living, and leadership at home concerning the environment. By April, the Center had brought in 3,200 children and is postulated to reach 7,000 by the close of this year. Next year’s estimate is about 8,000. The growth of the Foothills Learning Center has been slow and steady, aspiring to become a go-to place for weekend recreation.